We are deeply concerned in our society with justice, we talk a lot about equality and equity. We want to make sure that people have what they deserve, that they get their fair share, that no one is denied what they are entitled to. We worry when some people have more privileges, possessions, and opportunities, while others have less.
Our concern for justice shows the deep influence of our Jewish and Christian inheritance. Even in an advanced secular society, biblical ideas are still shaping our assumptions about right and wrong and our expectations for what makes for a good society.
In the Scriptures, the word for “justice” is sometimes translated “righteousness,” and the concept is mentioned more than 800 times. “Justice and justice alone shall be your aim,” Moses teaches the Israelites.
Justice in the Bible is “social.” But before that, justice is personal, it’s a virtue of the human heart.
That personal dimension is what’s missing in our secular society’s understanding of justice. Nowadays, we start with the rights of individuals or groups and we think in terms of what they are “owed” by society, often defining these things only in legal or material terms.
But justice is more than that. It’s one of the cardinal virtues, essential for right relations between ourselves and God and between ourselves and other people. Justice is not so much about getting our “just desserts,” it’s about our duty to give others what they deserve.
The Catechism defines it like this: “Justice consists in the firm and constant will to give God and neighbor their due.”
What is “due” to our neighbor? This is a question our secular society has trouble answering, because we no longer agree that there is an objective purpose or “end” for human existence.
But the Christian virtue of justice presumes that God has a plan for every person, that he endows us with rights and obligations, that he gives each of us a transcendent dignity and destiny.
Justice means respecting the God-given rights of others: their right to life, to freedom, to the goods of the earth that God has intended for all.
Justice means doing right by others in our personal relationships and social transactions. It also means working for a society that promotes fairness, equality, and human rights in its legal system and economy.
Jesus defined our obligations to God and our neighbor in terms of love. We are to love God with all our hearts and strength and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What is due to God is love. What is due to our neighbor is love.
So, works of justice are works of love.
But justice is more than works we perform or rules we follow. Jesus said our justice must exceed the justice of the scribes and Pharisees, who reduced justice to external compliance with the letter of the law.
Our Lord wants us to be filled with a deep, inner desire for justice, a deep longing that every person receive the goodness that God intends for them. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice,” he tells us.
So, how do we grow in the virtue of justice?
Gratitude is essential. Everything we have, beginning with our life, is a gift from God. The more grateful we are for what we have been given, the more we will want to see that others receive the gifts that God wants for them, not only the things of this earth, but also the things of heaven.
Another way we grow is by trying hard to do what is right and just, even in the smallest areas of daily life. Do your work well, pay your debts, when you use something that belongs to someone else, treat it with care. Virtue grows through practice.
We should reflect often on the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and in everything practice the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”
We should also be attentive to the little injustices we can commit: talking about people behind their backs, being judgmental, gossiping. These are injustices because they take away from others what is rightfully theirs, their reputation and good name, the personal esteem they deserve.
A final way we grow is to endure the little offenses and indignities that we experience every day with patience and forgiveness. This helps us grow in humility, as we are aware that we are following in the footsteps of Christ, who is the “Just One.”
The just man in the Scriptures is the good man. As the prophet teaches, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love goodness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Pray for me this week and I will pray for you.
And let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to help us to grow every day in our hunger and thirst for justice.